SCOTLAND's cities could have their own directly elected "metro mayors"  to fight their corner in the early years of a Labour government, according to Anas Sarwar.

The plans - personified to many by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham - are being considered by the party as part of a set of constitutional reforms which Mr Sarwar regards as key priority for a new UK government led by Sir Keir Starmer. 

Mr Sarwar put forward the proposal as he also suggested that Labour would give more financial powers to councils along with powers around transport infrastructure, capital investment and economic regeneration.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool he said local government in Scotland had been "absolutely decimated".

Mr Sarwar said: "One of the biggest [questions] in Scotland as we head towards the 2026 Scottish Parliament election will be: 'How do you reform local government? How do you strengthen local government in Scotland?'

"Because at the moment, it's absolutely decimated."

He added: "There's starting to be a creeping demand for some kind of mayors model in Scotland.

"I'll go back to the pandemic. I think about that really powerful moment when [Greater Manchester mayor] Andy Burnham with all the local authority leaders across Greater Manchester, stood in front of the public hall demanding a meeting around some of the Covid restrictions.

"A very similar situation happened, for example, in Glasgow, where Glasgow had a more restrictive at Covid policy than other parts of Scotland, but there was no one standing outside the public hall, the city chambers, demanding and speaking for Glasgow.

"I often think about if we had that regional mayor body, whether that dynamic would have been fundamentally different in Scotland.

"I think people have seen that mayors work."

When asked after the event what extra powers he would like local authorities to have, Mr Sarwar said: "Economic development has to be really crucial. So putting growth back into our country is the number one priority because it's the fruits of that growth that will allow us to reform our public services."

He added: "I think giving local authorities economic powers, powers around transport infrastructure and capital investment around economic regeneration is going to be a huge opportunity to build that regional growth that allows us to do that public sector reform.

"Look at what happened in Covid. You had regional representation that was challenging national government and I think we were missing that in Scotland.

"I like the model of mayors but fundamentally it will be a decision for people in Scotland."

During the discussion, organised by the Institute for Government, the Scottish Labour leader told how the Labour government led by Tony Blair after the 1997 general election moved quickly to implement major constitutional changes including the establishment of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments suggesting the speed of reform should be replicated by a Starmer administration.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown published his report on the UK's Future last year which included plans to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected second chamber, an assembly of regions and nations.

But with the prospect that the Lords' proposal could take considerable time and meet resistance among members of the upper house, which has a Conservative majority, Mr Sarwar said devolution changes should not wait for Lords reform. 

"Of course you have to do constitutional reform properly. You can't rush it and move in a haphazard way....but the challenge we are going to have is that there is a public demand to change the way we do our democracy," he told a fringe meeting at Labour's annual conference in Liverpool.

"I think if you think back to the 1997 government they didn't wait to do reform around our constitution. We had the Scottish Parliament in 1999 having won the election in 1997. That was a huge constitutional reform that came quickly."

He added that governments come in and have "political capital in those early days" to make "big, bold radical change" that governments didn't have the chance to do in their latter days.

"There are certain things we will have to do very very quickly," he said. "Resetting the relationship has to happen immediately."  

He continued: "There has to be a process put in place and you have to do it when you've got political capital, that's when you will have public opinion on your side to be able to drag things through rather than wait when you have a government that has more challenges.

"And let's be honest we are not going to have a huge amount of money to spend to do lots of things. Public service reform, early on, though it is something we want to do, will still have to demonstrate a change and those things we can do around the constitution, the relationship,

"Our challenge will be that we can't get into a situation where the Lords becomes a hand break on a Labour government that has a mandate to deliver its manifesto".